Sunday, September 4, 2011

"Law Makes Men Alimony Slaves": Judge Joseph Sabath - 1939

FULL TEXT: (This is the fifth in a series of articles on separate maintenance. Three bills to abolish this evil are before the Illinois legislature.)

You may have been married to a man only nine months when you leave him and yet, under the archaic separate maintenance law of Illinois, he must support you until your dying day, be that fifty years away.

You may be young and comely when you marry him. You may still be young and comely when you leave him and file suit for separate maintenance. You may be capable of supporting yourself, yet the law provides that he be your slave for life, your husband in name and checkbook only.

Woman’s present economic status no longer justifies this, Judge Joseph Sabath, dean of the divorce judges of Cook county, declared yesterday. He said that as the separate maintenance law, with its condoned abuses, stands, it is merely an open door to “alimony, alimony, alimony.”

~ Experience in 36,000 Cases. ~

Judge Sabath has spent twenty-seven years on the bench. Although now hearing law cases, he served fifteen years in the divorce branch of the superior court. During that time he granted 36,000 divorces and emerged with scant respect for the women who have made of separate maintenance what he calls an easy money racket.

The proposed Illinois act limiting separate maintenance is sorely needed, Judge Sabath believes. In a series of three bills now before the legislature the sponsors propose to limit separate maintenance to two years. At the end of that time either party may ask for a divorce, the separation being legal ground for granting a decree. A wife’s dower and property rights, and responsibility for the care of children, would not be changed.

During his fifteen years in divorce court Judge Sabath handled about 300 separate maintenance cases in which the husband supported his estranged wife – to whom he was still married – for from five to twenty years. A much larger percentage, the judge said, “paid and paid well” for five years or less.” “It was exhorbitant,” he declared.

~  No Relief for Husbands. ~

“I found that in many cases, after a decree of separate maintenance was granted, the husband was compelled to pay and pay and pay,” he said. “He had no remedy or relief whatsoever.”

“At the same time he was a married man, but deprived of a home or the privilege to remarry and establish a home, which the law never intended.

“The greatest evil now is the door this opens to any one who wants easy money. Once a bill is filed for separate maintenance, it means support money. What it really means is negotiations and settlement.”

When the Illinois legislature first passed a law to remedy this situation [the 1935 law limiting separate maintenance to two years, which later was held unconstitutional because it applied only to childless couples], Judge Sabath was quick to use it. This was the case of Ferdinand F. Neliesen, who in 14 years paid $29,925 separate maintenance to a wife who lived with him only nine months.

~ Begs Wife to Come Back. ~

Mr. Neliesen, vice president of the National Engraving company, was married in 1924. He was then 36. His wife, Lois, was 28. Nine months later she left him and filed suit for separate maintenance charging cruelty.

She obtained her decree and $60 a week in support money [later reduced to $45 a week]. During the next three years Neliesen begged her – in open court – to come back to him, but she refused. She once even sent him to alimony row in the county jail for slipping behind in his payments.

When the new law went into effect, Neliesen asked that his payments be stopped. Feeling that his 14 years’ separation fully complied with the “two years separation without cohabitation” grounds, he petitioned the court to let him seek divorce. His wife had filed suit in Circuit court exactly 14 minutes before.

“This new law,” Neliesen said when Judge Sabath stopped his payments, “is a godsend for men like me. I always figured I had paid enough for my brief marriage. I feel I am entitled to get a divorce.”

~  Never Gets His Freedom. ~

Neliesen never had his freedom, however. He was drowned less than two months later, and then his wife sued to get more than a widow’s dower from his estate. Even if he had received a divorce, the subsequent invalidation of the 1935 law would have replaced him in the status of a married man.

“If a couple can’t get along,” Judge Sabath elaborated, “and yet hasn’t any grounds for divorce, they still should be given a new start in life.”

“I hope they will pass this new law so that the husband can get a divorce even if he is guilty. From one to three years’ noncobabitation in itself should be sufficient grounds for the man, although of course he must comply with the former order of the court for support of his children, if there are any.”

“It is, you might say, a conditional divorce, conditional but absolute. He must still support his family, but he must not be deprived of a new home if he wants it.”

Judge Sabath is not opposed, he said, to separate maintenance in itself, but rather to its abuses.

[Winn, Marcia, “Judge Tells How Law Makes Men Alimony Slaves – Cites Cases Where They Paid, Paid, Paid,” Chicago Tribune (Il.), Apr. 26, 1939, p 13]


For more revelations of this suppressed history, see The Alimony Racket: Checklist of Posts


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